The former chief, a former councillor and a sitting councillor for the Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan are being taken to court by a band member who wants them to return money taken from the band’s resources.
That Renee Crookedneck is not looking for financial compensation for herself in the matter, which is similar to a class action, is unusual, said legal counsel Sean Carrie, who is representing Crookedneck on a pro bono basis.
“I think it’s perhaps novel in this context…(because) in a class action context, you would always be seeking some sort of compensation… sort of what’s going on here, except the compensation isn’t going directly to those band members. It’s returned to the general fund where it will subsequently be used to benefit the band membership as a whole,” said Carrie.
Renee Crookedneck is alleging that former chief Leslie Crookedneck, former councillor Garth Crookedneck, and present councillor Gabe Alexan each took $5,000 from the band’s 2020 Child and Family Services Prevention Activities fund without proper authority to do so.
“The health department finances showed that defendants took $5,000 each from the prevention fund. They treated it like free money,” Renee Crookedneck alleges in a written statement to Windspeaker.com. “$5,000 is a lot of money for people like me that are on (employment insurance) or income assistance.”
Windspeaker.com was provided a copy of four pages of band transaction records from 2020 that indicate that on July 9, 2020 each of the three people named in the court action received $5,000.
Renee Crookedneck said she reached out to the Band Members Alliance and Advocacy Association of Canada (BMAAAC) “to help me and the band members.”
BMAAAC was founded in 2020 as a means to “give members access to justice,” said founder, CEO and president Robert Louie.
While $5,000 may not seem like a lot of money to some, Louie says it is for a lot of First Nations people.
“What I’ve learned in working in the Indigenous law field is that many band members are on social assistance where their total income is a couple thousand dollars every year…It’s within that context we have to look at it,” he said.
In fact, Louie was involved in court action that began in 2009 and was resolved in 2015 when members of the band council of Lower Kootenay Indian Band were found to have breached their fiduciary duty by paying themselves $5,000 each as a retroactive honorarium for their work as council members. The money was taken from $125,000 in compensation the band had received. In a decision made behind closed doors, the council members took $25,000.
That case was Louie v Louie, with band member Wayne Louie as the plaintiff and the head defendant being Chief M. Jason Louie. Robert Louie signed an affidavit in that case saying he did not know until 2011, like most other band members, that council members had each taken $5,000 in payment.
In the Louie decision, the British Columbia Court of Appeal held that the removal of $25,000 from band funds provided a significant personal benefit to the councillors and a detriment to the band as a whole.
“Renee’s goal is to stand on behalf of all members of Ministikwan band in essentially censoring suboptimal behaviour on the part of band council,” said Carrie.
According to the statement of claim filed April 7 in the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, the $15,000 was taken from an account earmarked for suicide prevention programming. The defendants are alleged to have breached their fiduciary duty by taking money intended for all band members.
They are also alleged to be in a conflict of interest, putting self-interests ahead of the public interests, and further are alleged to have acted in concert.
These allegations have yet to be tested in a court of law.
Along with making restitution to the band membership, Carrie says court action is “a means of ensuring that this band council, and hopefully by example other band councils, adhere to good governance principles.”
While court papers have been served on Garth Crookedneck, Louie said there has been difficulty tracking down the other two defendants so a court order to “serve them another way” may be necessary.
Windspeaker.com reached Alexan at the band office and asked him about the allegations.
“I have nothing to say about that,” said Alexan.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com